The Dallas Stars entered the 2016-17 season with high hopes and dreams of another deep run at Lord Stanley’s Cup after claiming the Central Division title the year before. Injuries and inconsistent goaltending quickly derailed those hopes, however, leaving Dallas sellers instead of buyers at the NHL trading deadline.
After longtime head coach Lindy Ruff unfairly took the fall for the Stars’ decline, General Manager Jim Nill set about the task of making changes to get Dallas back into contention and the first step was bringing back defensive-minded coach Ken Hitchcock, who previously led the team to the Stanley Cup in 1999.
“I was done, to be honest with you. But when those coaches started calling and asking for help, it got me revved up,” Hitchcock said. “This is an emotional day for me, like coming home. This means the world for me.”
Hitchcock had most recently coached the St. Louis Blues but became the scapegoat himself after the team’s slow start in the Gateway City. “Hitch” is an established presence on both sides of the puck, however, and it is hoped he
will bring back structure to Dallas and guide them much the same way he did in the 90’s.
The Stars are built around Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, among the league leaders on offense year-in and year-out, but defense and inconsistency in between the pipes has been held Dallas back. Nill has already addressed that need looking to give his two potent scorers the surrounding pieces they need.
On May 9, Nill traded a fourth round pick to the Los Angeles Kings for the rights to goalie Ben Bishop before signing the All-Star goalie to a six year, $29.5M extension giving Dallas the unquestioned starting netminder it lacked. The addition of Bishop, who brings with him a career 2.32 goals-against average and .910 save percentage, gives Dallas a player they hope can be its backbone in between the pipes.
“He’s an elite goalie in the NHL,” Nill said. “His resume and track record speaks for itself. We think that he’s an upgrade in net for us and I’m hoping he’s a big part of our future moving forward.”
“Ben is an elite goaltender in this league and we’re thrilled to be adding him to our mix,” Nill added. “Ben’s commitment to what we are building in Dallas, and his passion for wanting to be a part of it, was evident during the negotiating process. We are excited to have him under contract for the next six seasons.”
Dallas was in position to pick 11th going into the 2017 NHL Draft, but the odds were in their favor as they were rewarded with the third pick in the lottery. The Stars wasted little time adding the top defenseman available in Miro Heiskanen from Espoo, Finland. While the 17-year old, 6′,0”, 172-pound defenseman will be given a shot at cracking the club in training camp, he will most likely return to play in the Finnish Elite League next season to gain more experience as he matures into the NHL defenseman the Stars envision.
With the top goalie and defensive prospect on board, the Stars then found an opportunity to add immediate help on the back-end in acquiring veteran blueliner Marc Methot. The league’s newest franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights, grabbed Methot from the Ottawa Senators in the expansion draft and Dallas jumped at the chance to add a top-four defenseman sending goaltender prospect Dylan Fergudson and a second round pick to Vegas in return.
Methot, who will likely partner up with John Klingberg or Esa Lindell, brings a wealth of experience playing alongside all-world defenseman Erik Karlsson in Ottawa, and is excited to join a Dallas team poised to win now.
“You know what, I love it. I love the opportunity,” Methot said. “I love the idea of playing down in Texas, and I am excited about it. I think for me I complement well an offensive-minded player. It allows whoever I’m playing with to roam around a little bit more and take more opportunities offensively.”
Klingberg plays a very similar game to Karlsson, and Methot’s experience should be very helpful with Klingberg’s
development. There will also be familiarity with the coach as Methot played for Hitchcock in Columbus. Hitchcock coached the Blue Jackets from 2006-10.
Hitchcock himself is familiar with the city and fans having coached the Stars from 1995-2002 in his first tour of duty. His staff, comprised of Ron Wilson, Stu Barnes and Curt Fraser, are familiar as well.
“We’re all very comfortable here in Dallas,” Hitchcock said. “Rick has his family there. It’s where I started, and I am comfortable there. Curt has been there for years. And Stu gets to go back. We are comfortable living in the city. It’s an easy place for us to go back to.”
It’s been a busy summer so far for Nill and the Stars. It’s far from over but it’s been extremely productive. The Stars have brought in a staff dedicated to improving team defense and bringing the cup back to Dallas. Familiar faces on the bench will help with team chemistry and cohesion.
Going into the off-season, the Stars were aiming to improve in net and on defense and they couldn’t have done much better. Nill has to feel good with the needs the team has addressed. Bringing back Hitchcock and infusing Bishop and Methot should immediately make Dallas contenders again in the Western Conference.
You heard it here first — take Dallas to win the division and make a deep run towards the conference and finals. I give a grade of A+ to the off-season transactions thus far for Nill and the Stars.
Written by Cameron D. Turner / @OSUcam
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Main Image: Dallas Stars defensemen Patrik Nemeth (15), Julius Honka (6) and left wing Antoine Roussel (21) in a game between the Dallas Stars and the Carolina Hurricanes on April 1, 2017 at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC. Dallas defeated Carolina 3 – 0. (Photo by Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)